Monday, May 10, 2004

My Desert Oasis

While meandering my way from Joshua Tree National Park towards Utah, I hit Route 66. It happened by accident but sometimes the best times of our lives happen without any planning.

When I turned onto the historic byway, I'd been following a trio of riders. Less than a few minutes on Route 66 they turned into Roy's and I decided I probably should, too. I noticed they pulled in early and to the FAR left of the gas station that sits in front of Roy's Cafe. Why? I wondered. They, in fact, were parked near the porta-potties. Where I pulled in was actually scarier than the johns cooking out in the sun and heat of the California desert. Why? You wonder?

As I hit the gravel parking lot, I eyed the gas pumps and felt my eyes bulge a bit at what I saw. Circled in front of the cafe entrance were about a dozen guys, a dozen scary lookin' guys who were evading the heat by imbibing in ice-cold brews under the awning. Next to the only available gas pumps was a skinny dude with large black Ray Bans and sleeved arms. His arms weren't sleeved in cloth, no they were sleeved in tats. I knew at this point that I'd be rejected fuel and laughed straight the hell out of Amboy. Yes, I was at the famous Roy's Cafe & Motel in Amboy, CA. Except, I'd never heard of this place but later found out that it's quite popular in those parts. Now I know why.

I needed fuel, so there was only one thing to do, pull up, fill up, pay out and drive off.


I needed fuel, so I pulled up, shut off the bike, removed my helmet under the watchful eye of all of those around and then started laughing. I couldn't help myself. The giggles just came out, probably out of nervousness, but mostly out of the stark image that was there for all to see. Me, a long-distance-riding geek, covered head to toe in safety gear on a bike that roughly resembles a Harley. I laughed, I knew how silly I must have appeared to these dudes. So why be left out? I laughed first.

Once the helmet was set on the saddle a crowd formed around me and the bike. They moved in like I was fresh roadkill. Was I going to make it out alive? Oh hell yes. These guys were pussy cats as I found out after spending two hours with them. I've been around rough riders in my past and knew better than to assume too much at the first glance. I trusted my instinct and ended up having some of the most fun of the trip there, in the dry desert heat amongst a group of riders who took me in as one of their old friends. It was fantastic.

Ray, the chopper owner and temporary pump attendant, was thrilled to show me his bike. He had just put it back together two days before he rode it the 4 hours it took to get to Roy's. He asked me to sit on it. What?? ME? Well, of course! I'd never tried on a chopper before and now I know why. How these riders go more than a block on those bikes is amazing. Much more amazing than riding coast to coast in less than fifty hours. He was proud of his machine and I knew what he felt. He shared his pride by asking me if I had a camera with me. He wanted to take a picture of me on the bike to take home as a souvenir... I gladly accepted his offer and complimented his work several times as a courtesy and pay back for his kind gesture.

Mike was on his Road Glide that day. The RG is one of his eight bikes which are not all Harleys. Surprisingly, he was very knowledgeable about LD riding and asked if I knew Dean Tanji. He thought Dean had put together my fuel cell and that's what started off our conversation. His RG is easily converted to an endurance machine and he's done some border to border rides with IBA folks in the past. You'd never have guessed that his RG had over 80K miles on it. There are bikes on showroom floors that don't look at good as his bike. It was gorgeous. We devoted a lot of time to talking about bike mods and places we've been. He was a super nice guy who bought me a Roy's tshirt which will always make me smile and remember the visit every time I wear it.

Fire Chief Steve was the group's joker. He was about 8' tall, barely haired, tanned and tattooed, and had absolutely no fashion sense. He wore a faded tshirt beneath his denim vest. His baggy shorts revealed his pipe-burned calf and mid-calf boots which appeared to be as old as I. Steve was a lot of fun and really got a kick out of my gullibility. We ended up trading jerky: my buffalo jerky for his homemade beef jerky. What a delightful lunch.

I didn't get the name of the official welcome dude. He walked around greeting riders as they rolled up to the pumps. I really admired his straw cowboy hat and ended up buying one similar while I was in NM. Mr. Welcomer was handy with the flyswatter. He helped control the fly population around the ice chests.

The guys asked me to stick around and go to Laughlin with them at some point. I'd informed them of my loose schedule but I really did want to mosey towards the canyons of Utah before the weekend so I declined the offer to stay.

It's times like those that reinforce the wanderer in me to truly slow down and make the stops that catch my eye. Something interesting can always present itself if we allow ourselves those few minutes to explore. My visit to Amboy was most definitely interesting.

*By the way, Amboy is for sale in case anyone is looking for a real estate purchase.

Roy's Motel Cafe


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